Classic Dispensationalism

The Changing Face of Dispensationalism

Theology Thursday - Scofield's Dispensations

In 1909, a Congregationalist minister named Cyrus Scofield published his study bible, which Carl Trueman has called the most influential book of the 20th century. The notes in this study bible popularized premillennial dispensationalism for millions of Christians, and it still exerts a wide influence. His notes are characteristic of so-called “classical dispensationalism,” and (among other things) they emphasize a very hard discontinuity between the Old and New Covenants. Indeed, a reader could interpret Scofield (and, later, Lewis S. Chafer) as advocating a works-based salvation under the so-called “Dispensation of the Law.”

His notes describing each “dispensation” are below. Some controversial aspects are bolded for emphasis and reflection:  

Genesis 1:28 - The First Dispensation

Innocency. Man was created in innocency, placed in a perfect environment, subjected to an absolutely simple test, and warned of the consequence of disobedience. The woman fell through pride; the man deliberately. 1 Timothy 2:14 God restored His sinning creatures, but the dispensation of innocency ended in the judgment of the Expulsion Genesis 3:24

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Why They Followed the Law (Part 3)

Read the series.

Many dispensationalists are mistaken about the impetus for obeying the Mosaic Law, and they’re mistaken about Paul’s main point in his letter to the Galatian churches.1 These errors compound one another and, like an investment gone mad,2 they produce great confusion among Christians.

I’ll repeat something I wrote in the first installment of this series:

In Galatians, Paul was not arguing against the Old Covenant. He was arguing against the twisted, warped version of the Old Covenant the scribes and Pharisees had been pushing for so long.

Dispensationalists have made many attempts to explain the relationship between Old Covenant saints, the law and Christian life today.3 They often labor mightily to avoid the excesses of Scofield and Chafer, while yet simultaneously upholding a strong discontinuity between the Old and New Covenants. They often focus relentlessly on Paul’s letters (particularly Galatians and Romans), and less on the Old Covenant texts or their continuity with Jesus’ ministry.

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Why They Followed the Law (Part 2)

Read the series so far.

God’s people have always followed the law because they love Him, and want to serve Him. That’s the only proper motivation for serving God. Always has been. Always will be. This isn’t a “New Covenant” distinctive, or an “Old Covenant” distinctive. It’s a “believer” distinctive. I’ll explain that in this brief survey.

It Is Moses’ View

Moses, the man himself, told the Israelites God wanted them to fear Him, and do what He said (Deut 10:12). They should love Him, and therefore serve Him with everything they have – keeping His commandments and statutes, which were given for their own good (Deut 10:13).

Why should they do that?

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Why They Followed the Law (Part 1)

Getting the Law Wrong?

The entire book of Galatians is consumed with the problem of what to do with the Old Covenant law. What does “following the law” have to do with personal salvation through repentance and faith in Jesus Christ?

A large party of Jewish Christians, most of them likely from Jerusalem and former Pharisees, believed you had to follow the Old Covenant law and repent and believe in Christ (Acts 15:1-5). Luke, in a very understated fashion, observes “Paul and Barnabas had no small discussion and debate with them.” The Apostle has little time for this kind of terrible error. He calls this teaching “a different Gospel,” (Gal 1:6). He speaks of the Galatians “deserting Him who called you,” (Gal 1:5). He said this is a perversion of the Gospel of Christ (Gal 1:7).

Did these Pharisees actually understand the message of the Old Covenant scriptures? Why did God’s people follow the law, anyway?

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Dispensationalism Then & Now, Part 2

(From Dispensational Publishing House; used by permission. Read Part 1.)

A Renewed Understanding of Hermeneutics

My personal concerns have to do with some of the new proposals for a dispensational approach to the Bible, i.e., a critique of some of the structural points that hitherto were not characteristic of dispensational thought. One major principle will be discussed here—biblical hermeneutics. There are other factors that could be dealt with profitably as well.

Principles of Biblical interpretation are the first order of concerns in structuring a doctrine or a comprehensive method of interpreting the Bible, foundational to correct exegesis itself. Often the order is reversed. It is often asserted with vigor that Biblical hermeneutics must come from interpreting the Bible itself, i.e., a simple matter of exegesis. But this appears to be a circular procedure, i.e., using hermeneutical principles on the Bible in order to find the Bible’s hermeutical principles (to be used on the Bible).

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The Dispensational Continuum

If there were a line between Traditional Dispensationalism and Progressive Dispensationalism, I suspect I would be barely over that line. But there is no line. The relationship between Traditional Dispensationalism and Progressive Dispensationalism is anything but clear cut.

Although the Traditional Dispensational camp views the Progressive Dispensational position as a compromise or infringement upon the clarity of its divisions, modern Traditional Dispensational interpreters often interpret passages using the basic principles of Progressive Dispensationalism—either without recognizing it or without admitting it.

The Progressive Dispensational Hermeneutic Is Commonly Found in Traditional Dispensationalism

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